Chambers Bay doesn’t care about worldwide acclaim or criticism.
It is just a living, fire-breathing golf course with one agenda this week at the 115th United States Open Championship:
Locate the survivor.
Some players said they actually like Chambers Bay for its peculiar links-style nuances, particularly those who found low scoring under softer conditions in the opening round Thursday morning.
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Two of those would be co-leaders Dustin Johnson and Henrik Stenson, who set the course record with matching 5-under-par 65s.
And the golfer one shot back — Patrick Reed — might have seen his previous course record of 68 go down from the 2010 U.S. Amateur. But even he was better than that Thursday with a 66.
Of the 25 golfers who broke par, 14 came in the morning wave.
Most don’t seem to care for the course, and are finding it harder to mince their words. Chambers Bay is becoming one of the most controversial layouts in U.S. Open history.
Even after 18 holes of competition.
“There’s a lot of guys that have come into this day already frustrated with the course — not only how long it can be and how tough it can be, but you can get some good breaks and bad breaks,” Australian Jason Day said.
In all fairness, the USGA’s setup Thursday was fair. Mostly, the par-3 holes were played from shorter distances to accessible pins. And the drivable par-4 12th hole featured its easiest hole location, netting 11 eagles, most on one hole at a U.S. Open in 30 years.
“Today was the most scorable day,” Jordan Spieth said. “It’s going to get more challenging from here.”
Johnson, the long hitter from South Carolina with such promise and overdue major-championship expectations, turned it on over his final nine holes with four birdies — three coming on arguably the course’s toughest stretch of holes, Nos. 4-7.
His lone bogey came at the ninth hole where he pulled his tee shot left, and barely left his curling 20-footer short in an attempt to save par.
“It’s always fun to play courses that are different than what you play every day,” Johnson said. “I just enjoy playing here. I enjoy playing golf at the British (Open). It’s golf that I really like to play.”
Stenson had a bit more to worry about than just a brutish course. During the final practice round Wednesday, caddie Gareth Lord slipped off the 16th tee box, and injured his left wrist.
Lord carried the bag Thursday, but with his hand in a soft cast.
Stenson birdied four of the final five holes to tie Johnson atop the leaderboard. Afterward, the Swede — who made a visit just to walk Chambers Bay in April — was asked if he liked the course.
“Of its kind? It’s one of the finest,” Stenson said. “It is a links course with some extreme features, there’s no two ways about that.”
And after drying out, it left some extreme carnage in the afternoon.
Tiger Woods shot 80, his highest round ever at the U.S. Open. His previous high was 77, set in the third round of the 1996 U.S. Open at Oakland Hills as a 20-year-old amateur.
And he wasn’t even the highest score of his group. Rickie Fowler, the recent Players Championship winner, had an 81.
“Bright side is, at least I kicked Rickie’s butt today,” Woods joked.
Spieth, the Masters champion, along with Day, fared well out of the afternoon with 68s, tying for seventh.
Phil Mickelson, who at point had the lead at 3-under in the morning, settled for a 69, and sits tied for 14th. He has finished second a record six times in the national open.
“I thought there was nothing hokey or crazy with any pin positions or how it played,” Mickelson said. “The biggest challenge is that the green speeds are different from green-to-green. That’s going to create havoc with our touch.”